May 26, 2010

Of voids

Do I still have readers after more than 2 months of silence? Two months of silence. Almost 10 weeks of not blogging. That seemed unthinkable a while ago. But I was not only lazy with blogging; I was barely online in SL as well. Having been reliably online daily for the better part of 3 years, nowadays I can only been found in-world once or twice a week. So what happened?

What happened is that I have a new RL job.

"Oh!", you may think now, "This new job keeps you busy and you have to impress your new boss with loads of overtime and 140% commitment!"

No, that is not it. Of course the job keeps me busy, but it does not come with an extra investment in time. What happened however is that this job fills a void that previously got filled by SL.

Regular readers of my ramblings might remember that I often mentioned a certain hardship in my RL. A close family member suffers from a medical condition - which overshadows my life. In addition to that, my (old) RL job has turned into a nightmare during the past three years. I was trapped between a rock and a hard place, and before I found SL I was pretty much depressive. I was on a bad path, and I lacked many, many things in my RL. Respect. Appreciation. Peace. Success. Financial freedom. Companionship. Trust. Tenderness. Love.

I got all this from SL. And plenty of it.

You might think this is pathetic. I tend to think it saved my life one way or the other. For a few hours each day I found what I was craving for. I found peace. I found respect. I enjoyed success and financial freedom. At the same time that my abusive RL boss tried psychological warfare on me and told me how much I suck at what I do - I established and built the leading text service provider in SL. While I got told that the work I did the last 10 years was a piece of shit, that I suck at marketing, that I suck at selling, that I suck at networking - nonetheless I became a boss in SL myself, a business partner of some of the biggest names in SL, got a certain public exposure, got nominated as social butterfly, got nominated twice as Entrepreneur of the Year, became a SL Solution Provider.

Cynics might suggest that I had better invested this energy on my RL job. And maybe they are right. But talk is cheap, and I had the impression I was fighting a losing battle anyways - which got confirmed by friends and family. People, who had no reason to lie to me.

After a specifically abusive incident in late summer 2009 I finally had enough and started looking for a new job. My family situation made me reluctant to give up the security of my old job (as bad as it might have been - it seemed secure). Getting my CV in order and browsing job listings gave me new energy. I became bolder in job applications; I became less intimidated in my old job. And finally I found a new job.

And then something unexpected happened. The significance SL had for my life dropped overnight.

I started my new job - and did not log into SL for almost a week. I was so energized for my new job, and I was so stunned (in a positive way) of the new tasks, the new projects, and the new challenges.... I sat on my couch in the evening, totally exhausted (in a good way), and read, watched TV or played Open Transport Tycoon Deluxe - a vintage computer game.

To be honest, I feared I was addicted to SL. It was both a relieving as well as a strange realization that I am not addicted at all!

Recent research suggests that there is no such thing as addiction. That it is only stimulation and fulfillment of needs, and as soon as the needs get fulfilled in another way, the addiction vanishes. I am a prime example for this. I had the need for a respectful, appreciative environment. I did not get it in my RL, but found it in SL. So I became addicted to SL. Now I work for a company that WANTS me, that CHOSE me out of countless applicants, that NEEDS my skills, that WANTS my creativity, that gives me freedom, recognition and trust - and by this fills the void that SL used to fill.

No, don't worry, this is not another of those "I am leaving SL" posts.

I have no intention to leave SL. I like SL. It is still an environment in which I want to relax (and yes, running two businesses IS relaxing for me) , in which I have friends. However I need to reassess my time - and plan it better. Right now I am thinking of setting aside one evening for my SL-businesses, and another evening for fun, meeting friends, exploring. There are lots of things to do: I want to relocate Babel and create a small creative plaza with my friends Nissa and Ivanova. I want to pick up photography again, and - having worked with digital video some years ago - finally try machinima in SL. I neglected my social life, and I want to WIN Entrepreneur of the Year this time.

It is actually a nice feeling. Now that the subtle pressure of filling a void is gone, I can look at SL from a new angle. SL gave me a lot over the past 3 years, now it is a new chapter in my relationship with SL, and I look forward what it can give me at this stage.

March 14, 2010

Tagged - Step 2

Tagged - Step 2, originally uploaded by Peter Stindberg.

Crystal tagged me, and since I did not do a meme this year, so here we go...

Handle with care

1. I am very shy. It takes long before I speak to someone, a little less in SL, more so in RL.

2. I have self-esteem issues, can't accept praise easily, don't think highly of my achievements, and generally think I can't really live up to expectations.

3. (Self-)doubt and fear are constant companyons. Fear of loss, fear to annoy.

4. I try to avoid people with the same nationality I have, try to avoid talking my native tongue in SL. There are very few people in SL with whom I talk in my mother tongue. The tought of sharing intimacies in that language is horrible.

5. If you get to know me and earn my trust I will be one of your most loyal and caring friends.

6. I prefer jeans over skirts, short hair over long hair, small breasts over large busts and generally am attracted more to the tomboyish/androgynous women.

7. SL helped me to discover and embrace my bisexuality.

8. My musical taste is extremely broad, but my love is with celtic folkrock, celtic fusion and celtic crossover. I tried to learn Gaelic once.

Maybe I tage you, maybe I don't....

Fashion notices:
- Hair: Truth Peta
- Jacket: Elixir
- Suit: Graves
- Shoulderpads: Oralune
- Shoes:
- Bangles:
- Glasses

March 13, 2010

Good hair day

[Safety advisory: those of my readers who are faint of heart - especially the female ones - are advised to be safely seated before proceeding with this post. Please keep a telephone handy for emergency calls. If you need something to calm your nerves - like a glass of eggnog - please take it as a precautionary measure.]

I love my hair! My first hair ever after my newbie hair was "Spike Brown" by Adam'n'Eve, and it took me many weeks until I settled on "Luth" from Elikapeka Tiramisu Designs (ETD). My budget was tight back then, and I only bought a pack of 3 browns, but it was exactly the style I wanted. Short, a little bit messy, youthful. A great style - and it did not bother me that it was marketed for women. No, I actually enjoyed it that it set me apart a bit, being probably the only male avatar wearing it. ETD's "Luth" defined the way my avatar looked since I bought it, and with very few exceptions I wore it all the time since December 2007!

I'm sorry, Ladies, yes, I wear the same hairstyle for 27 months straight

Recently my friends Faerie Hax and Dunan Wilder suggested to me in a kind and subtle (cough) way that my hair is outdated, and as a consequence dragged me through countless hair stores, among others Find Ash, Zero Style, Sadistic Hacker, Truth, Exile, Little Heaven, Novocaine, Tiny Bird and Tukinowagima - I ended up with 27 demos that were considered as finalists! Alas, while there were many nice styles among them, none of them "clicked", and ruefully and under the disapproving gaze of Faerie I returned to ETD's "Luth".

And then, a few days ago, I saw the advert for Truth Hawks' new style "Peta". (As a sidenote, don't ever try to google for "peta truth" - it gets hundreds of results - none of which is relevant to SL hairstyles). "Peta" immediately clicked. I could immediately see me wearing it and got the demo. I wore the demo for two days, and asked my friends what they think of it. All of them loved it. All of them said it is the right successor for my old hair - similar in style, but more modern in appearance. So finally, after more than two years, I changed my hair.

March 08, 2010


I experience weird graphics card glitches quite often, and seeing part of my body-texture plastered all across my body in a WRONG way is not unusual. But seeing my eyeballs on my lower body was actually the weirdest and grossest glitch so far.

So, yeah, it's my copybutt :-)

February 27, 2010

Shared Media poses huge privacy risk

The blogposts of the past week are full of praise for the new "shared media" option introduced in Viewer 2.0 (and surely being retrofitted soon into 3rd party viewers). On the surface, this shiny new functionality adds a lot of benefits which have been discussed at length already. Under the surface, however, this new technology gives everybody the tools to melt away your privacy and anonymity!

How does shared media work?

With the new shared media function you can put a webpage on the face of a prim. This webpage can contain all sorts of content, up to full fledged Flash animations and sound. The prim-face assigned with shared media acts like a web browser. The webpages in question get requested from your own PC - not from a central server at Linden Lab.

How does this affect my privacy?

Whenever you request a webpage, your IP address is transmitted to the web server. Most web servers store this address in their logfiles. IP-addresses are considered personal information in many countries, especially since more and more refined techniques of IP-Geolocation allow to pinpoint the geographic location of a user with increasing accuracy. Try it yourself - click this link to have yourself IP-geolocated and let me know in the comments how accurate it was (no, I don't see the actual results).

With the shared media, a webpage on a prim loads as soon as you look at it - probably even as soon as you are in the vicinity - thus transmitting the IP address of your PC to the remote server. This is not an opt-in process! It happens automatically, and without giving you the option to accept or deny. There might be an opt-out, but it would disable all shared media for you.

Now imagine the website on a shared media prim is not a general website, but a specific website, tailored to gather specifically YOUR IP-address and related data. Would you like that?

OK, but where is the difference to requesting a website?

The holy grail for web marketers for years was to identify individual users. All sorts of more or less unethical tricks where thought of, to identify recurring visits, and to gather data about a user. Web-surfers are sensitized to the topic by now, and most users know their IP data gets logged. Privacy concerns have led to legislation in many countries. In my country, for example, collecting the IP-addresses in server logfiles is illegal in most cases now.

In Second Life however, the level of expectation is different. Second Life is NOT a webpage. While it is common knowledge that Linden Lab tracks certain parameters like your IP-address, nobody expects that any other resident is able to get this information. On top of that, shared media allows you to create exact avatar-name-to-IP-address matches.

A horror scenario

I personally have been blackmailed and RL-threatened by a SL resident who reverse-engineered my RL identity before. My friend Zonja Capalini came up with this horror scenario:

A and B are in SLove and partner. Everything is roses. A while later, the love dies and B resolves the bond, which drives A up the wall. A creates a shared media prim pointing to a specific webpage on a server A controls, and hides it where B - and only B - is about to see it repeatedly. Over the course of a few days A collects enough IP-addresses of B to not only pinpoint the geographic location but also the ISP of B and - because B logged in from work twice - also the fixed IP address of B's employer. A little more digging reveals B's realname, B's work telephone number, the name of B's boss who might be interested that B worked as a virtual stripper, and in consequence B's home phone number and B's Flickr account where B's kids are displayed.

OK, sure, you are right, B should not log in from work. And B should not have lied about about their gender and marital status. So B saw it coming, yeah? So let's look at this:

X is a fashion designer, doing some rather nice designs. Y is a drama blogger and asked X for free samples to blog them. X denies the samples and Y swears revenge. Y manages to place a shared media prim with a specifically tailored spy-webpage where X sees it. No tangible data is found though since X uses a popular ISP and has frequent changing IP addresses. However to Y's huge surprise she also tracks the IP-address of Z, another fashion blogger. And it turns out that Z's address and X's address are identical, even that web-cookies X's browser loaded are already present in Z's browser. Y has now identified an alt-account of X and uses this knowledge to spread drama.

Yeah, sure, X saw it coming. Why does she create a secret alt in the first place?

But that has been possible before!

Yes, it has been possible before. Parcel media stream settings could have been abused this way before. However it required two things: you need a parcel whose media stream you can control, and the victim needs to have media-playing switched on. Plus you need the victim to come to your land, while a shared media prim could even be worn and thus brought into the vicinity of the victim.

A similar exploit uses the webpage tab in profiles. If you have set webpages to auto-load, malicious web addresses could also be used. However this is a pretty broad approach, since you can barely fine-tune it towards one victim only.
What is novel about shared media is that those stalker-tools have been given into the hands of literally every resident. If I am alone with someone, I just need to rez or wear a prim with shared media and a specific webpage and get that person's IP address.

What can I do?

If this concerns you - and to my huge surprise it has not concerned many people I spoke with - your safest approach is to not use Viewer 2.0. Viewers based on 1.x will not display shared media, and you are safe. Of course this also prevents you from using the many new fancy features.

Viewer 2.0 has an "Allow media to autoplay" in the settings. I need to run tests to see if this attributes to shared media as well. If it does, it at least gives you the choice.

Finally there is a "Enable Web Proxy" setting in Viewer 2.0. Again I have not yet tested if this gets used for shared media as well. At least this will be some security against direct pinpointing. Public proxy servers can be found on many lists on the web. For hardcore security fans you can use a TOR-proxy as well, however sacrificing a lot of speed.

Anything Linden Lab can do?

Linden Lab could actually remove this problem at its root by not having the individual viewers request web-content but have it centrally fetched and distributed via the SL network. This would also solve the problem that two watchers of a shared media prim might see two different things. Unfortunately this is not a feasible solution since it would put an immense strain on the LL network and would easily boost the required bandwidth beyond any sensible measure.

Living with the Pandora's Box opened

Shared media was inevitable. Users have been asking for HTML-on-a-prim for years, it is a function not only the educators need urgently, but which will find many, many uses in the coming months and which will change the face of SL in a very literal sense. It's too late to put it back in the box - the aspects of its use are just too large and thrilling.

My goal with this post is to make you aware that your privacy and anonymity has just been diminished further. Many people will applaud this in fact, advocating that avatars should come out of their hiding. Maybe I belong to an endangered species of immersionists, believing in a separation between SL and RL. But as a resident you need to know that you can - and probably will - be tracked by shared media prims.

Welcome to the new world!

Update: There has been a JIRA issue created on that matter, and in the comments there are some sensible suggestions that boil down to some sort of personal firewall inside of SL, where you are a) made aware of media surfaces that want to load and b) can decide on a case-by-case basis if you want to allow the.

February 20, 2010

200,000 Banner Impressions on XStreet SL

My translation agency is recognized as Official SL Solution Provider by Linden Lab since March 2009. During a promotion for solution providers I recently got 200,000 free banner impressions on XStreet SL. This means my banner would be shown 200,000 times - not necessarily to 200,000 different people. Excited about this opportunity I submit my banner and the link to Kimmora Linden, and a little later my banner went live.

One question was where I would like the banner to link? I checked out some banners and saw they mostly link to an XStreet item, some to an external website, and some to a SLURL. I asked on Plurk for feedback on banner ads, and most people reported they never click on banners at all. In the end I decided to link it to one of my free promotional offers on XStreet itself, so I can track if the banner ad made a difference.

I had no idea what to expect, or how long those impressions would last. Two hundred thousand sounded like a large number to me, but I could not estimate what kind of visitor traffic XStreet SL would receive. A banner on XStreet SL changes whenever you come to a new page. So if you look at 3 products, you will see 4 randomly selected banners (including the front page banner).

I was rather surprised how quickly the impressions got used up. Only a few hours after the banner went live, the first 10,000 impressions were gone already. In the end, the 200,000 impressions lasted about 3 days. Of course I was curious to see the results.

The XStreet backend gives a nice realtime overview about the status of a campaign. In the end my banner received 58 clicks - this means out of 200,000 times the graphic was displayed, only 58 people (0.029%) clicked on it. This is somewhat sobering, but then again I offer niche services only suitable for a small fraction of residents.

Of course, those 58 clicks might have resulted in additional exposure and business opportunities. The linked product - my Language Kiosk - is a useful tool and free of charge. Surely those people who clicked my banner should consider my kiosk an interesting thing and "buy" it.

Alas, it does not seem like this. While there is definitely an increased exposure - those 58 clicks really end up on the product page - it does not seem to result in an increased attractivity of the kiosk. The number of purchases stays in the range of sales outside the advertised period.


Without doubt, a timeframe of 3 days is way too short to draw any generally valid conclusions. My product is pretty niche - a service offering rather than a retail product. Nevertheless the pricetag for those 200,000 impressions would be 7,999 L$ - had I actually paid for them I would have been extremely disappointed. To cover a full week I would have needed 500,000 impressions at least, at a whopping 17,499 L$.

  • To get a better impression, a merchant is well advised to do A/B testing with 2-3 different banners. My banner was static - the majority of banners is animated to overcome the "banner blindness" of most shoppers. A proper test would consist of various versions of the banner, animated and static, with different wording as well.
  • One of the biggest problems I see is that the banners are not context sensitive. A merchant books 200k, 500k or 2 million impressions, and the ads get randomly displayed. It would make much more sense to ask for a list of keywords and/or categories, and only show the banners relevant to XStreet products of a certain category or keyword.
  • A by definition intangible and immeasurable effect is exposure. My banner got shown 200,000 times, so a lot of people have supposedly seen it and might remember it in the future.

Still this has been a very interesting experiment, and I thank Linden Lab to give me this opportunity. I would be interested in hearing feedback both from merchants who use banner ads, as well as from shoppers who click or not click on them.

Have you clicked on a banner before? If yes, did you buy the product? If no, why not? Did you buy banner advertising before and where you happy with the results?

I look forward to hear your feedback!

February 16, 2010

Potential RL-identity exploit with Avatars United

For those of you using their RL-email for their SL-avatar, using the default settings of Avatars United might pose a risk of unintentional exposing the address!

Snickers Snook posted an insightful article about "Spam via Avatars United", where she explained that since joining AU she receives significantly more spam on her supposedly undisclosed email address. She dug a bit into the settings and found that the default is that even non-installed AU-widgets can access certain data and send emails.

While Snickers primarily saw the spam problem, my friend Zonja Capalini pointed out that while being spammed is a nuisance, the bigger threat lies in the unsolicited disclosure of a potential RL email address and thus disclosure of the RL identity.

So if this concerns you, do two things:
  1. Read Snickers article and adjust your Avatars United settings
  2. Go and finally get a GMail/Yahoo/Hotmail/whatever address for your avatar

February 11, 2010

The Lion and the Prime Minister

My friend Zippora was in the good position to have been able to quit her job and become a professional storyteller, and every time I hear about this my interest is piqued. She took me to some events in SL already, and shared some web resources with me. I think telling stories is a beautiful thing to do. So when my friend PanPan IMed me last night and vented off about her RL boyfriend, I took the opportunity to soothe her with a story I read. The problem was that after a few lines I realized I forgot about most of the story, so I had to make my way up as the story continued. Still I think it went fairly ok:

The Lion, king of the animal, looked for a new prime minister, since he was unhappy with the old one and ate him. So he assembled the animals around him, and demanded that new candidates for prime minister came forward. The Hyena came forward and said "I'll do the job". The Hyena was wicked, and thought with the Lion as protector she can be even more wicked.
The Lion looked her up and down, and then blew his breath into her face, and it stank and the smell of the old prime minister who the Lion ate was still there.

"How do I smell?", growled the Lion
And the Hyena - not dumb - said "Oh king of the animals, your breath is like a fresh morning in the desert, like the rain in the forest, like flowers in full bloom."
And the Lion stared at the Hyena and growled "you are a sweettalker indeed, but when you talk like this to other mighty animals, to heads of state, they will feel like you make fun of them. you are no use to me."
And he hit the Hyena with his paw and killed her.

Then he looked at the other animals, and growled "I still need a prime minister".
The animals were all scared and look at each other, and finally the wildebeest came forward. "I be your prime minister." The Wildebeest - also known as the McDonalds of the steppe - hoped for protection as well, and courageously smelled the breath of the Lion.

"What do you think of my breath?" demanded the Lion.
And the Wildebeest considered this and then took all its courage and said "With all due respect, my lord, but your breath is quite bad. It smells of rotten flesh, its foul stench keeps everybody at bay, and the animals know from far that you are coming because you smell so bad."
The Lion looked at the trembling animal with a long and sincere stare. And finally he growled "Do you want to INSULT me? And do you want to insult visiting kings and princes and politicians? Honesty is not what is needed in a prime minister!"
And he hit the poor Wildebeest with his paw and killed it.

Again the king looked at the scared animals and growled "Anybody else wanting to become prime minister?" Nobody moved, fear hang in the air, sweat poured from faces, nervous coughs all over. And finally a tiny swallow flew up, circled twice through the air, and then landed in front of the Lion.

"You?" growled the Lion and laughed a deep rumbling laugh.
"Yes, my Lord, I want to be your prime minister."
The Lion took a deep breath, blew up his lungs, and then blew the air against the tiny bird, making it tumble all over. He laughed as the bird finally got back on his feet and came back to the huge Lion.

"So, what is YOUR take on the smell of my breath?" he demanded.
And the swallow replied "What, oh Lord, is your breath supposed to smell like? I am just a small swallow, but if you tell me what it smell like, I make sure to tell every other animal, so they all know about it."
The Lion stared at the bird in disbelief, and then started to laugh and laugh and laugh, and when he finally stopped laughing he looked at the assembled animals and announced "Bow to the new prime minister!"

And since this day, the swallows always fly between Europe and Africa, to bring the words of the Lion King to all the other animals.

The original - or at least the version I knew before forgetting half of it - can be found here.

February 07, 2010

The 2500 prim skeleton

Approximately 2500 prims were used for the huge Leviathan skeleton on the new Ahab's Haunt sim. Of those 2500 prims, quite literally only a handful are sculpts. All the other prims are regular prims. Not a single prim I found is larger than 10x10x10 meters or - in other words - this humongous build was constructed without a single megaprim.

The skeleton was built by "moles" - content creators contracted by Linden Lab. It is a safe assumption that the moles know what megaprims are, and how to use them. At the same time finding a Linden build (or Linden contracted build) that uses megaprims is like searching a needle in a haystack.

I am not a pro builder, but my guess is that the leviathan skeleton could probably be built with 75% less prims if megaprims could have been used. And probably with 90% less prims if sculpted megaprims would have been an option. This means the asset browser, the SL databases and the viewers of everybody coming close to that island would only need to store, transmit and render about 250-350 prims, instead of 2500.

To understand the (I assume deliberate) decision to not use megaprims, we need to take a step back. Megaprims were never regularly available in Second Life. Initially, the SL viewer limited the maximum size of a prim, and some clever person managed to circumvent this restriction and injected the first batch of megaprims which then got handed down from builder to builder. As a result, the check for the prim dimension was included in the server side, and megaprims could not be generated anymore. A while ago, a bug in the server code made the creation of megaprims possible again, and the second wave of prims became available. At the time of this writing, there are about 36,000 megaprims known and available in SL.

There is all kinds of rumours regarding megaprims. They allegedly cause lag. They allegedly steal sim resources. They allegedly influence the physics model badly. They allegedly are illegal and can get you banned using them. Indeed, the status of megaprims is a fuzzy one. Linden Lab never outright forbid their use. Neither did they take technical steps to restrict the usage. But also they never gave the "green light" for their usage. Megaprims are tolerated, but not loved. And because of this, Linden Lab will be careful not to set a precedent and use these prims in their own builds.

Update February 8:

[11:24] Silent Mole: It's true! Mole builds don't use megaprims.
[11:26] Peter Stindberg: Thanks! Can I quote this?
[11:27] Silent Mole: Yep.
[11:29] Silent Mole: Andrew Linden is the company expert on megaprims. His office hours are at Denby (213/45/34) 11:00 - 12:00 Tuesdays and 16:00 - 17:00 Fridays.

February 06, 2010

Top 5 Requested Second Life Features

Caleb Booker is a metaverse developer and a professional writer on the topic of virtual worlds. I stumbled across a guest post of his on Hypergrid Business, which was originally published on his own blog. Caleb claims that in discussions with business/educational clients, the following 5 things were repeated over and over as the most urgently missing ones in Second Life:
  1. A collaborative whiteboard
  2. A PA-System for voice chat to assign an "open mic" to persons
  3. Separate voice-channels in different floors of a building
  4. Realnames for avatars
  5. File Transfer between avatars
The thing with these 5 requests is that they are highly biased towards a specific purpose. I personally know of a handful of whiteboard applications. I think voice conferencing is best realized with 3rd-party-offworld tools. As is file transfer. And as far as realnames are concerned, I recently stumbled across Xerox' SL presence and they use names along the lines of "FirstnameLastname Xerox". But I digress.

While I am sure those 5 might definitely be pressing issues from a business point of view, I can't accept them in their absolute approach as THE 5 most requested features for SL. In my point of view, the 5 most urgent things are:

  1. Inventory Loss
    It is an unacceptable situation that inventory gets lost in the first place. And the reports of lost inventory and the Lab's reaction to it - which almost come at a weekly basis - are plainly said a disgrace. I really can't understand why inventory gets lost at all. But if it happens, I can't understand why the Lab is not able to restore it easily. I have seen people leave SL over losing their entire inventory. I have friends who experienced multiple inventory losses. I have friends who followed the knowledge base steps meticulously, only to hear from the Lab they should in the knowledge base upon which the support person simply closed the ticket. Inventory not only has a monetary value (in many cases substantial) but also a commemorative value. WHY DOES INVENTORY GETS LOST AT ALL?
  2. Teleport
    Why do teleports fail? Why do they sometimes fail so drastically that you crash? Why do I appear perfectly ok to my friends after a teleport for up to minutes, while on my end still the odometer bar crouches slowly? Why am I sometimes completely immobile after a TP? Why do I sometimes need to do a 3-way-teleport to reach my destination? Why can't I sometimes not teleport at all to a destination, but a log-off with subsequent log-in to the very place works?
  3. Scalability
    The landlady of my home sim built a club there a while ago. Unfortunately it is very successful. Which means that when there is an event going on, the rest of the sim lags horribly. Which is annoying when you try to build or have a business meeting. Prims won't rez, scripts crouch. And we're only talking about 25 people on the sim. The adjacent sim is usually empty. Why do empty sims not contribute their resources to full sims? Why do 25 avatars throttle a sim down, why do 40 avatars turn a sim into syrup? Why can't we have 100 or 200 avatars on a sim AND have smooth motion and quick rezzing? Why is a sim limited to a processor core, instead of requesting as much processing power from the SL grid as it needs?
  4. Prim Sizes
    I want to make prims in any arbitrary size. Allowing sizes larger than 10m - with full support - would make building so much easier and efficient. It would be so much more efficient for the prim economy too. It would even reduce load on the asset servers.
  5. IM Subsystem and Inventory Transaction
    As I wrote back in November, almost every inventory action results in an IM behind the scene, and this is the reason inventory transactions routinely fail. Besides that, the current IM/chat system has a whole lot of issues annoying residents on a daily basis.
Yes, I am aware that this is probably not the top 5 requested features, but rather the top 5 requested remedies.

What are your top-5 requested features or bugfixes?

January 30, 2010

Avatars United - where is the beef?

In a surprising move Linden Lab has bought the web portal "Avatars United". In April 2008 now retired blogger Vint Falken presented Avatars United (AU) as "Facebook for virtual personas". While I never was much of a fan of Facebook - and the current (and repeating) controversies about privacy concerns prove me right - I do use the social business networks Xing and LinkedIn with good success. A social network for avatars that bridges te gap between purely in-world presence, blogs and email was an intriguing thought so I signed up.

Avatars United never really fulfilled my vision and expectations. There were certainly a lot of good ideas, but at the same time they fell short in many aspects. The site used to be slow, features were not intuitive or buggy. Also - despite Vint's call for action to SL avatars to become the largest group in AU - it never reached a critical mass.

Other services stepped in. Flickr holds now the largest community of SL avatars for photo sharing, despite efforts of Koinup and Snapzilla to offer more SL centric services. Blogger and Wordpress hosts the majority of SL centric blogs, Twitter and Plurk have huge communities of SL avatars despite more specialized latforms like Ning or even SL centric platforms like (defunct), moolto (a Ning site) or ProfilesLive (aka SLProfiles) offering better tailored services. There are avatars on Xing, LinkedIn and even on Facebook, who is currently undergoing the second wave of ethnic cleansing regarding digital personas.

Avatars United - forgotten by many and dwarfed in usage compared to any of the other sites above - now got the huge boost from Linden Lab. The cards have been reshuffled, the game is open again.

What does Avatars United offer today:
  1. Microblogging
    The "Shoutbox" allows you to publish short blurps of thoughts which can be seen by your contacts or everybody else seeing your public page.
    Who else offers it: Twitter and Plurk are the platforms used most by SL avatars, but also avatar forums on Ning,, moolto and others offer this.
    AU implementation: Solid, but lacks cross-connectivity into other services like
    Killer feature: no
  2. Photo Sharing
    You can create albums and upload photos to it. Other users can comment on the photos and "like" them.
    Who else offers it: Flickr is the "mother of photo sharing services", Google has Picasa as probably #2 in the market. Koinup offers specialized services for SL avatars and has a nice followership. Snapzilla is specialized on SL avatars as well and is widely used.
    AU implementation: slow and offering no advantage I can see compared to other sites.
    Killer feature: no
  3. Blog
    AU allows you to create your own blog entries, as well as to subscribe to other's blogs and to comment and "star" posts.
    Who else offers it: Wordpress and Blogger as the most popular services, but also communities like Ning.
    AU implementation: straightforward and spartanic, but missing again important connectivity features.
    Killer feature: no
  4. Feed Reader
    The opposite of the AU-blogs is the function to aggregate blog sources you read in a web based feed reader. With the idea of AU as dashboard, you could read all your favourite blogs from within the AU page.
    Who else offers it: ther eis a plethora of standalone feed readers - as web service Google Reader is probably the largest one
    AU implementation: extremely slow and buggy, claiming perfectly validating feeds as not being proper ones
    Killer feature: no
  5. Plugins and Gadgets
    AU offers the functionality to include 3rd party plugins into your page, adding more functionality. Right now the number of plugins is small, but since AO offers support for Google's OpenSocial standard, there will soon be more.
    Who else offers it: Facebook, LinkedIn and Xing all offer plugins, there is also a number of plugins available for the iGoogle homepage. Ning offers plugins to a certain extent.
    AU implementation: I have not tested this yet
    Killer feature: maybe - no other SL/avatar centric platform offers this functionality. It depends on how this feature gets adopted by the community, but this could be a winner.
  6. Currency model
    While the basic functionality is free, certain features need to purchased with AU "coins", where 500 coins equal roughly 5 US$ or about 1500 L$. It seems that 3rd party plugin developers can charge "coins" for these too.
    Who else offers it: Google Apps offers commercial widgets for one time or repeat charges. No SL oriented site I know offers this.
    Killer feature: maybe - for social websites it is the clearest revenue model I saw so far, and it depends on the attractiveness of the offered features. And of course with the new owner Linden Lab, an integration of the "coins" with L$ would facilitate the success.
Bottom line

Where is the beef? Right now I don't see it. While I definitely will continue to use AU, right now I see no compelling reason to prefer it over my usage of iGoogle, Blogger, Plurk, Twitter and Flickr. However AU is in a great starting position now. With a more responsive server platform, and with essential cross-connectivity features added, it might become a true dashboard for avatars. Let us pipe in our photos from Flickr and Koinup. Let us mirror our blogposts from Wordpress and Blogger. Let us Tweet and Plurk from the AU interface or get support for Let us rate XStreetSL items within AU and create wishlists. Let us mirror our in-world friendship relations in AU and see who's online. Add a landmark sharing service.

The opportunities are exciting for sure. Now it comes to show the SL residents the beef.

January 18, 2010

Watch your avatar name with Google Alerts

Everybody has "googled" their avatar name before, and the more vocal ones of us have certainly found a mentioning here and there. But did you know you can automate this process? Google Alerts is a nifty little gadget that allows you to store Google queries within the search engine itself, and get an email report (or a personalized feed) as soon as one of your searches gets a new result.

I am using Google Alerts both for my SL avatar as well as for my RL person, and it has become an essential tool for me. However the other day I read an article by metaverse consultant Ener Hax and realized that probably not everybody knows about Google Alerts. You might notice that against my usual practice I did not link to Ener's article. The reason is that Ener writes she has - just like me - set up extensive Google Alerts "so if someone mentions me, i wanna say hello back". I hope Ener Hax shows up in the comment then to prove the effectiveness :-)

As you can see from the screenshot I have set up Google Alerts for my name and the name of my businesses and the projects I am involved in. In my particular case I have also set up Alerts for the common misspellings - some people never get my name right. Basically you can set up Alerts for every valid Google query. The "link:" queries you see in the image for example fire if someone links to my blog.

Admittedly I have edited the screenshot. I have also set up Alerts for my avatar name in conjunction with my real name - I want to know right away should they ever appear in the same context. I have also set up Alerts for my competitors so I can keep an eye on them.

I hope this helps you keep a better eye on your online persona - and of course these things apply to your RL identity too.

January 17, 2010

Winning a photo/story contest

A few weeks ago my dear friend Zippora Zabelin contacted me with the suggestion to cooperate on a contest for a "Royal Photograph" for the Companion sim. The contest was aimed to create portraits of "missing relatives" of a royal bloodline, to be displayed in a gallery in the castle. Zippora sent me the draft of her story describing the sad fate of the King's firstborn daughter - the Ice Princess.

My task was to come up with the visual interpretation of her story. Thankfully there were still some wintery sims around, among others Oubliette in which I took a similar themed photo of my friend Quaintly some time ago.

The photoshoot proved difficult with extreme slow sim performance and both me and Zippora crashing. Post processing of the images took several days, with drafts going back and forth between Zippora and me many times until we were both happy.

Last night we got contacted by the contests organizer Frigg Ragu with the great news that we are in fact one of the winners and our contribution will be exhibited in the castle. This was actually the first time I won a contest in SL (except from some "Best in ..." party contests), and it was an extremely pleasing experience.

Make sure you read Zippora's wonderful story as well - the image and the story really go hand in hand with each other.

January 15, 2010

The many faces of Peter Stindberg across the grids

Beauty is only skin deep - and nowhere this saying is more true than in virtual worlds. The appearance of our digital identity - the avatar - consists of a handful of sliders for the shape and the skin that is pulled across it.

I recently spent more time again on OpenSim based grids, and you will likely see more posts about that topic in the future. A year ago I took my first glimpse into opensim grids - and was quickly sobered due to the quickness and bad performance of those alternatives. But things have changed over the past year. Stability has become much better. Newer viewers offer features addressing the issue of accessing various grids. And so exploring new frontiers outside of SL becomes a less frustrating and more exciting endeavour.

Over the three years I have spent in SL, I have subtly tweaked my avatar many times. I am quite happy with the (preliminary) end result. Peter Stindberg is a male, without doubt, but not one of the stereotype males featuring a barrel chest, no neck and ridiculous proportions that more remind of the incredible hulk than a human being. I am rather short for a guy (still transformed to atomic world sizes my avatar is 2.15m tall), slender with a hint of adrogynity. Above all, my avatar is proportioned, with legs and arms and torso in the right lengths and widths. The slight unshaven look, the curious eyes and the not-too-toned look comes from Hart Larssons wonderful PXL Jude skin. And my signature haircut is Luth from ETD - an older style but I like the messy look.

It's only natural that I want to take this appearance with me into other grids. Of those I tested only Reaction Grid gives you a halfway decent avatar (with halfway decent prim hair and AO) to start with - the other grids give you the standard Ruth female avatar.

Transferring my shape was the easiest task. The Imprudence viewer allows you to export your shape into a XML file (provided you have the necessary rights to the shape), and reimport it again. This was a quick task, and after a few minutes my 4 personas in other grids had the same body like my SL avatar.

Skin and hair however proved to be difficult. Except for the Rezzable grid (which is basically only a playground/testing-grid) I found some freebie shops in all the other grids, usually providing me with Eloh Eliot skins which - in doubt - I could upload myself too since Eloh hands out the Photoshop files. However, while Eloh's skins are nice, it is not what I wanted. And it is even sadder with hair, because what you find in the freebie boxes in terms of male hair is rather pitiful.

So I contacted Hart Larsson of PXL Creations and Elikapeka Tiramisu of ETD and explained my situation and asked for a license to use their creations in another grid:
Lately I am exploring more and more 3rd party grids, and of course I want to have a consistent appearance across grids. Therefore I would like to ask you for the terms and conditions of a license that would allow me to use .... in other grids too.

I know from a content creator perspective this is a touchy issue. What I am asking for is a license tied to my person only - I operate by the same name in all other grids. I don't expect to get this license for free either. In terms of security I can only offer you my public reputation though.

[... Explanation how it could be done from a technical point of view ...]

I understand fully that this might be quite a tough request for you, but I ask you to think about it with an open mind. Please let me know if there are any additional questions you might have, I am more than willing to answer them.

Hart Larsson got back to me a day later. He has already investigated a bit into 3rd party grids but is rather reluctant. The surprising argument was that he fears more theft in these grids compared to the Second Life grid. His argumentation was along the lines that in those 3rd party grids good content is rare, so someone who comes there wearing a good skin is more likely to get copybotted than in SL. I personally think that a copybotter would rather go into SL to "harvest" and then upload the items into a 3rd party grid, but I have to accept Hart's concerns. He promised me to think about it - I have not yet contacted him again.

ETD's store assistant contacted me a little later. She thanked me for the notecard and the extensive explanation, and was glad I liked the ETD hair so much. However she said that a request like mine is out of her room for decision, and that Elikapeka is on an extended hiatus from SL. She promised me to pass my request along, but also mentioned I should not set too high hopes into a positive answer.

A look into the future

When I look into my crystal ball, I see that some time in the next 18 to 24 months we will be able to freely travel with our Second Life avatars into 3rd party grids. Probably only a few at first - most likely the academical Reaction Grid - but it will become more and more. Initially we will be able to travel into those grids with our appearance only - shape, skin and the items we wear. Eventually the rest of our inventory will follow and we will be able to change clothing or rez furniture in a foreign grid. It is inevitable, and content creators will not be able to prevent this.

I expect there are more people like me who want to explore 3rd party grids already today, and who want to do so in style using an as close as possible replica of their SL avatars. And who are honest enough to want to do this officially.

There is a window of opportunity here for content creators to branch out. The opensim based grid InWorldz has a currency model and an inworld economy already, where 500 IZ$ equal 1 US$. Other opensim grids plan to introduce an economy in the near future. Those content creators who will adopt grids outside of SL first, will be the ones who become successful there.

My advice for content creators is:
  • Grant your customers licenses to use your creations in other grids
  • Open stores in the more prominent 3rd party grids to establish a presence
  • Team up with other designers and buy a sim in the more popular other grids
  • For grids without an economy, offer your customers to pay you inside SL with L$ and deliver your items to them in the other grids
There is a market out there you are missing out on. Adopt the diversity and branch out to have success in the future.

A look into the even further future

In 5-7 years from now, Second Life will be the backbone of the Metaverse, providing an infrastructure with protocols, storage databases and API's. Individuals and corporations host their own sims on their servers. Similar to renting webspace today, you can rent simspace in the future, in datacenters connected to the SL backbone. But if you so desire you can also host your sim on your home machine and connect it to the SL grid. The currency of the Metaverse is the L$ - the money transactions handled by Linden Lab which acts as the bank of the metaverse. Linden Lab offers a credit card that taps into your L$ balance and with which you can make purchases in the atomic world. For these services, Linden Lab asks the usual charges banks ask for transaction. However the L$ will become the first truly globally accepted micropayment system, obsoleting PayPal. Not only will you be able to load books on your ebook reader and pay for them with L$, you will also be able to download video on demand or music with L$ and you can seamlessly watch them either on your internet enabled TV or your sim in the Metaverse.

January 10, 2010

Web based Megaprim Search Engine

A few days ago I was talking with Katharine Berry and a person whose name I forgot about Megaprims and the SALT HUD when I mentioned that a web based solution to "order" megaprims would be nice since it could offer a graphical preview. Katharine liked the idea and started to code and in only two days finished - a full featured graphical web based megaprim search engine.
On the first screen you enter the desired dimensions for the megaprim with the option to search for prims with exact matching dimensions, or megas that are smaller or larger. You can also account for a certain flexibility in the results. The permutation setting allows you to search for prims that match the query by means of rotating it - this is useful in some cases but needs to be switched off in cases where you want to convert the prim type to e.g. cylinder or where the center of the prim would be outside your parcel.

After submitting your query the website displays a list of matching prims. Via "get it" you can have the prim delivered to you. In order to prevent spamming/abuse, the in-world server sends you a confirmation link first - once per session (i.e. as long as you don't close your browser session). is a fast and efficient way to get megaprims delivered, and has many advantages over the SALT HUD. For feedback and suggestions please comment on Katharines blogpost.